Cliona, a mother of three, was recently quoted €4,500 a month for childcare. She simply cannot afford it.

"I don't know who can afford €4,500 a month and pay a mortgage and have any kind of a life, and put food on the table," she told Prime Time.

"I don’t know anyone who could do that."

A recently published report by Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman showed the average cost of a full-time creche place is now €186 a week.

In Carlow, parents are paying just over €150, according to the Annual Early Years Sector Profile Report carried out last summer.

But mums and dads can expect to pay more than €200 in Dublin, Wicklow and Cork City.

The dearest creches are in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where parents pay an average of €244 a week – or more than €12,000 a year.

Mr O’Gorman has signalled that there will be some help for parents of young children in the upcoming Budget.

The average cost of a full-time creche place in Ireland is now €186 a week

"I don’t think a €50 cut would be substantial. There is broad agreement across the three parties on the need to substantially cut the cost of childcare for parents in this year’s budget," Mr O’Gorman told the Irish Examiner newspaper.

When Cliona returned to full-time work following the birth of her twin children, she realised that she could not take up her old post, because the salary would not cover the cost of childcare.

"With the twins alone going three days per week, it was costing me €1,600 a month. So I was literally working to pay childcare on it," she said.

In the last Budget steps were taken to increase core funding for childcare providers in return for a freeze on fee hikes. These changes will also allow creche workers to be paid higher wages, with starting pay expected to be set at around €13 per hour.

But, despite this, providers say they are still struggling. A recent survey by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers found 260 operators are planning to leave the sector.

Karen Clince, the CEO of Tigers Childcare, which operates a number of childcare centres in Dublin and Meath, told Prime Time that her company is contending with inflation in many guises.

She pointed to labour force inflation, rising rents, and a surge in the cost of heating and electricity, as well as an increase in the cost of providing food for children.

"In the Covid crisis – and rightly so because we were funded by Government – there was a stop put on increasing our fees," Ms Clince said.

Labour force inflation and rising rents are among the factors contributing to high childcare costs

"But our fees have stood still and the cost of running the service has risen. Baby places are few and far between. To get your child down for a baby place pre-one years of age is almost impossible. You need to put your name down the day you find out you are pregnant."

Struggling to cover childcare costs, Cliona’s husband went to work in Afghanistan for a year. He is home now.

Cliona now finds herself working part-time only to hand over all of her money to childcare providers.

"I’ve changed my career three times now, because I couldn’t go back to doing what it was," she said.

She also wants to move home.

"We’ve a three-bed apartment. It’s great – I’m lucky we have a three-bed, but I want a house. I want a garden, but I can’t."

Mortgage providers baulk when they hear you have three children in childcare, she said.

"Good luck, you are not getting anything. There is no help. I know there is a Government scheme – I got €50 a month for the twins. That’s not helping anybody."